Study Shows 20 Minutes Of Yoga Stimulates Brain Function
Researchers report that a single, 20-minute session of Hatha yoga significantly improved participants’ brain function.
AsianScientist (Jun. 10, 2013) - Researchers report that a single, 20-minute session of Hatha yoga significantly improved participants' brain function.
The 30 study subjects were young, female, undergraduate students, and the findings appear in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
Immediately after yoga practice, in comparison to moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise, participants performed significantly better in speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and inhibitory control, two measures of brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information.
"Yoga is an ancient Indian science and way of life that includes not only physical movements and postures but also regulated breathing and meditation," said Neha Gothe, who led the study while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored."
The yoga intervention involved a 20-minute progression of seated, standing, and supine yoga postures that included isometric contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups and regulated breathing. The session concluded with a meditative posture and deep breathing.
Participants also completed an aerobic exercise session where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes. Each subject worked out at a suitable speed and incline of the treadmill, with the goal of maintaining 60 to 70 percent of her maximum heart rate throughout the exercise session.
"This range was chosen to replicate previous findings that have shown improved cognitive performance in response to this intensity," the researchers reported.
Gothe and her colleagues were surprised to see that participants showed more improvement in their reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks after yoga practice than after the aerobic exercise session, which showed no significant improvements on the working memory and inhibitory control scores.
"It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout," Gothe said.
Many factors could explain the results, Gothe said. These include enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises, and the reduction of anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests, she said.
"Yoga is becoming an increasingly popular form of exercise in the U.S. and it is imperative to systematically examine its health benefits, especially the mental health benefits that this unique mind-body form of activity may offer," said Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley, who directs the Exercise Psychology Laboratory where the study was conducted.
The article can be found at: Gothe N et al. (2013) The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function.
Source: UIUC; Photo: L. Brian Stauffer/UIUC.
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